Men’s Basketball: ‘Nothing was going right’

John Eligon

MADISON, Wis. – Northwestern was knocking at the door.

With wins in five of their last seven games and a chance to reach the .500 mark in Big Ten play for the first time since 1999, the Wildcats were looking ahead to the bright possibility of a postseason berth.

But in 20 minutes, the revamped NU team started to look like the same squad it was last year, when winning a conference game was satisfaction enough.

Wisconsin (14-11, 7-5 Big Ten) outscored NU 47-20 and shot a whopping 70.8 percent in the second half of Saturday night’s contest in to a 73-44 trouncing of the Cats (13-9, 4-6) before a sold-out crowd at the Kohl Center.

The demoralizing defeat was the Cats’ worst loss of the season, and it bumped them down to eighth place in the conference standings.

“We came out playing lackadaisical,” NU guard Jitim Young said. “It was real frustrating. Nothing was going right. I think we lost our focus and started bickering with each other on the court.”

Wisconsin’s Kohl Center has not been kind to NU lately. In last year’s visit to Madison, the Cats shot a woeful 20.8 percent and scored just 37 points in a 22-point loss.

NU shot 41.7 percent from the field Saturday, but the Cats’ 44 points equals their worst offensive outing of the season. And the Badgers’ 73 points are the most allowed by NU in a Big Ten game this year.

While five Wisconsin players scored in double figures, Young – with a game-high 17 points – was the only NU player to accomplish that feat.

“The thing about (Wisconsin) is that it’s so balanced,” NU head coach Bill Carmody said. “You can’t just stop one guy.”

The Badgers were red-hot after the break. Less than a minute into the second period, Badgers forward Charlie Wills sparked a 21-4 Wisconsin onslaught by hitting a three-pointer.

Wills hit another long-range shot, Wisconsin guard Freddie Owens glided to the hoop three times, and guard Kirk Penney added a three-pointer of his own during the game-breaking run, which put the Badgers up 47-28.

NU recorded a mere six points in the first 10-and-a-half minutes of the second stanza – all of which came from Young.

Wills, who led Wisconsin with 16 points, shot 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, with all of his long-range shots coming in the second half.

Wisconsin guards Owens, Harris and Penney punctured NU’s zone defense and got to the basket with ease, combining for seven layups in the second period.

“The driving lanes became a little wider,” said Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan, who added that his team’s increased lead in the second half allowed the Badgers to get better penetration. “When it’s a two-, three- or four-possession game, sometimes things will open up. That’s what happened.”

NU apparently exhausted all its energy in the first half and never mounted a significant comeback attempt. Wisconsin guard Travon Davis hit two foul shots with 6:48 remaining in the game to put the Badgers ahead by 20, and NU never got any closer.

NU used six first-half steals and a 44 percent shooting performance to stay within two points, 26-24, at halftime. But the Cats had no steals after the break.

“In the second half we came out and we couldn’t stop them,” Carmody said. “I hate to say we packed it in. I thought our guys were tired. We just weren’t able to mount any kind of opposition in the second half.”

While the Cats constantly attacked the basket in the first period, the Badgers’ defense caused NU to settle for quick outside shots in the second half. But even when the Cats tried to get something going toward the hole, the Badgers stifled each of NU’s attempts. Cats forward Winston Blake had the ball knocked from his hands on two drive attempts, while the ball rimmed out on another.

NU’s inability to poke through Wisconsin’s defense led to only seven free-throw attempts on the night, and the Cats missed them all. Just 10 days prior to Saturday’s loss, the Cats connected on 22 of 27 foul shots to knock off Wisconsin 69-60 in Evanston.

Following the game, Carmody told his team that they can either “take a nose dive and go south, or keep moving forward,” Young said.

But for now, the Cats are still feeling the wounds inflicted by the Badgers.

“We didn’t come ready to play today, ” Young said. “In this stretch of the season, you have to be ready to play. It hurts because we played bad.”